Sometimes, less is more. It’s an adage that applies in many domains within our lives…and in the modern world, it most certainly applies to food. A large volume of research demonstrates that consuming fewer calories leads to better health. Fasting has been used as a medical treatment for centuries and is a rich tradition in virtually all the major world religions as well.
Religious traditions recognize that there is an intrinsic link between dietary restraint and mental clarity, physical revitalization, and overall health. And although I don’t advocate any form of extreme dieting, I am impressed with the results I see in my patients who make intermittent fasting part of their lifestyle. I’m pleased to see that fasting as a therapeutic intervention is making its way into the mainstream…but one subject that does not get enough attention is how to safely and comfortably break a fast. This article by my team at UpWellness explores “break-fast” in a whole new light.
There is no doubt about it, fasting is an effective way to boost health and even drop some unwanted pounds. Even fasting for as little as sixteen to eighteen hours per day can have a dramatic impact on health. But many people are confused about what exactly breaks a fast – what counts, can you only have water or does that morning cup of coffee end your fast? Let’s take a look first at some of the benefits and then dig into the general rules around breaking a fast.
Benefits of fasting
Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed break and can even reverse digestive woes like leaky gut. Fasting also encourages a process known as autophagy, which is a cellular renewal that removes dysfunctional parts within the cell and improves cellular function within the body. Furthermore, fasting can put the body in a state known as ketosis, where fat is used for energy. Beyond this, the documented benefits are many and include:
- Fasting may help prevent coronary artery disease and diabetes – Regular fasting can improve heart health and help your body metabolize cholesterol and sugar. Low-density lipoproteins, also known as “bad” cholesterol, often decrease in response to fasting. More efficient metabolism of sugar means a reduced risk of obesity and developing diabetes – both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
- Fasting reduces inflammation – Although acute inflammation is a normal immune response, chronic inflammation can have long term and serious impacts on health. Research shows that inflammation may be involved in the development of heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Research shows that intermittent fasting, even just once a month, can slash inflammatory markers.
- Fasting may boost brain function and protect from neurodegenerative conditions – Animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting for eleven months improved brain function and brain structure. Additional animals studies show that fasting may actually help protect the brain and increase the production of nerve cells that can improve cognitive function. It has been found that intermittent fasting may protect against conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Fasting may fire up metabolism and help with weight loss – There is some research to support the fact that short term fasting may boost metabolism by increasing levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can impact weight loss. One review found that a whole day of fasting can drop body weight by as much as 9% and cause a significant loss in the amount of body fat over 12-24 weeks.
- Fasting increases the secretion of growth hormone – Human Growth Hormone ( HGH), is instrumental in wellbeing in many ways. Research shows that it is a key hormone involved in metabolism, muscle strength, and weight loss. A number of studies have found that fasting can increase levels of HGH. Fasting also helps maintain blood sugar and insulin levels, which can also help optimize HGH.
- Fasting could delay aging – A number of animal studies indicate that fasting may delay aging and increase lifespan. One study found that rats that fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats that did not fast and also aged slower.
How to break a fast correctly
Here is the key to successful fasting…knowing how to break it correctly. Technically consuming any calories breaks a fast. This means your cup of tea or coffee with cream that you enjoy after fasting all night – breaks the fast. This can also be a little tricky because some of the benefits behind fasting like ketosis, or burning fat for fuel, will stay active when particular nutrients (healthy fats) are consumed while other benefits such as cell renewal are turned off with just a few calories.
So, what is the answer?
Although certain foods technically break a fast, many still have benefits to deliver. The key is determining what fasting model works best for you and is sustainable.
Coffee and tea
For many people, a morning cup of coffee or tea is a great way to greet the day. These beverages have minimal calories on their own, so it is tough to say that they have much of an impact on the benefits of fasting. Although these drinks are said to decrease cell renewal slightly, one animal study found that coffee actually helped initiate renewal. It is not clear if renewal would have been more robust in the absence of coffee. What is clear is that having your morning cup of coffee or tea may make sticking to a fast a whole lot easier. Caffeine also has appetite suppression properties. As mentioned above, coffee and tea do not interfere with ketosis and fat burn, and there is evidence that they may even help improve insulin sensitivity.
Perhaps your version of intermittent fasting includes nothing but coffee blended with MCT oil, grass-fed butter, ghee or coconut oil until lunchtime. This is what is often referred to as a “fat fast.” Although this drink technically breaks your fast, it can keep cravings away while helping with fat metabolism. This can be very helpful because a dose of fat in the morning can help keep insulin levels down and keep your bowels regular. In addition, if weight loss is not your primary objective for fasting, a fat fast can help keep hormones balanced and help people struggling with adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.
Although bone broth also technically breaks a fast, it can be a very good addition to an intermittent fasting program. Bone broth helps reduce cravings and provides essential minerals and electrolytes that are diminished if your fast reaches 16 hours with just water. Bone broth is rich in gelatin and the amino acid glutamine, which helps to balance and heal the gut. Some research shows that too much bone broth can interfere with cell renewal. If bone broth is not your thing, you can get the same benefits by adding a couple of teaspoons of mineral-rich sea salt to water.
And…the #1 thing to NEVER eat
Although they don’t contain any calories, artificial, zero-calorie sweeteners should be avoided at all costs during a fast. These chemicals may seem like they would be fine to consume during a fast, but they can cause all sorts of problems, including majorly disrupting gut health and an increase in insulin. If you need something sweet, use 100% organic stevia during the fasting hours.
-The UpWellness Team